By Carli Wood
It’s that time of year again – the intense time after spring break and just before summer, where school testing is in full swing, meanwhile students and teachers are eagerly counting down the days until summer break. I’m hearing all about it from teachers, parents, and students, all of whom are reporting that this time of year is stressful and exhausting no matter your role.
Whether you have a third grader gearing up for their first ever state test, or a Junior who is prepping to take the ACT for the first time, we have some tips for helping your child reduce anxiety and tend to their mental health while in the midst of this stressful season.
Coping with anxiety
It’s normal for kids and teens to experience some level of anxiety around testing. Take notice if your child seems to be showing more signs of anxiety than is normal for them, like more frequent tummy aches, difficulty sleeping, or expressing worries about going to school in the morning. You can help your child manage anxiety by practicing coping skills like deep breathing and mindfulness, which are easily transferable into a test taking environment.
- One of my favorite breathing exercises for younger kids is called Birthday Breathing. For this breathing exercise, have them close their eyes, take a deep breath in, and slowly blow out while pretending to blow out their birthday candles. Whatever age they are is how many seconds they will breathe out.
- Older kids or teens may benefit from 5-7-8 Breathing. To use this exercise, they will breathe in for 5 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and slowly breathe it out for 8 seconds. They can do this as many times as they need to regulate their anxiety.
There is no doubt that there is a significant amount of pressure that comes with standardized testing. Students feel the pressure of performing well to move onto the next grade or get into the college that they want to go to. Sometimes kids may internalize this pressure and have thoughts like “If I don’t do well, I’m not a smart kid” or “I’m not good enough if I don’t get a high score.” It is important to help your child separate their performance on tests from their character and identity.
- Offer verbal encouragements such as “You are valued and loved regardless of what score you make” or “Your score does not define your worth.”
- Write positive messages on sticky notes and place them around their room.
It is likely that your child may be coming home from school more tired and crankier than normal. This is a prime time for parents to practice extending compassion and understanding to their child. Whether they verbally say it or not, kids need extra connection and support during this time. Think of unique ways you can connect with your child and help them to engage in other activities besides studying or homework. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming to make them feel supported and connected with you.
- Going for a walk, doing a project together, or listening to their favorite music with them.
- Surprising them with their favorite drink or snack after a long day of testing.
If your child’s anxiety or stress about school begins to interfere with daily functioning it is important to discuss this with their care team, such as their teacher, doctor, or therapist. These professionals can aid you and your student in developing a plan to help them cope with the stressors they are facing.
And if no one has told you lately, you are doing a great job, parent! Hang on tight, summer is just around the corner.